Thursday, January 24, 2013

Meaning is a Component of Happiness

The Atlantic has an article by Emily Esfahani Smith, "There's More to Life Than Happiness," which raises a perpetual issue in the happiness discussion.

On the one side is the Aristotelian view that happiness is the end of life, the one end which is not a means to another end.

On the other side is the view that happiness is a feeling that may accompany the highest end(s) of life, but is not that end.

This dispute is mostly semantic.  But there is a substantive question here.

The best alternative contender for the chief end of life is "meaning."  This is the alternative that Smith's article, and many others like it in this long-running dispute, raises.

The modern empirical study of happiness keeps coming back to this question: "On the whole, would you say that your life is very happy, somewhat [or pretty] happy, or not too happy?"  The overwhelming majority of people pick the first or second option.

What is important to me here is that people can answer this question about the lives on the whole. I think this means they are understanding happiness as a state of being, not a temporary feeling.

So how do we square the circle? I think meaning is a vital component of happiness.  When people say that, on the whole, they are happy, this includes some judgment that their lives are meaningful enough.

There is much more to be said on this subject.


ceemac said...

Hmmm........ If most of us are happy then why does so much of the nation seem so grumpy/grouchy?

gruntled said...

The great majority of individuals are happy with their own lives and their family's lives. They worry, though, that bad things done by other people might endanger their family or themselves. The fact that these dangers are rare or imaginary for most people does not change the fact that they worry about them.

It is somewhat like the widespread phenomenon of most people disapproving of Congress, but approving of their own Representative.

Anonymous said...

Consumer sentiment is at record lows.